Fear and loathing in Kansas City: Political harassment and the making of moderates in America's abortion wars (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)


  • Alexander Thomas T. Smith

    1. Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in Sociology at the University of Birmingham and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Kansas. He is carrying out ethnographic fieldwork on politics, religion and science in greater Kansas City. He has a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, and is the editor of the book series ‘New Ethnographies’ for Manchester University Press.
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  • The title of this paper borrows from Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and loathing in Las Vegas (1971, Random House) although I really have in mind his book Fear and loathing: On the campaign trail '72 (1973, Straight Arrow Books), one of the best accounts of US politics ever written. I am indebted to the many activists and volunteers in greater Kansas City, from MAINstream Coalition in particular, who allowed me to sit in on their meetings and interview them. I also thank John Holmwood, Gustaaf Houtman, Susanne Langer, Rachael Thompson and two anonymous AT reviewers for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Financial support for this research has come from a British Academy small research grant and the Leverhulme Trust. Opinions are the author's own.


The pro-life movement regularly employs tactics of political harassment in its campaign against abortion. As the murder of the controversial abortion doctor George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, demonstrated last year, such tactics often betray a potential for violence. This paper explores how the militant tactics of the pro-life movement in the 1990s have contributed to the formation of a ‘new’ political identity in Kansas politics: that of the moderate Republican. But for those that seek to counter-mobilize against the Christian right, the political stakes remain high.